YOGYAKARTA, Indonesia: The main front left exit of an Indonesian plane that crashed this week failed to open after landing, preventing some of the passengers from escaping, a leading crash investigator said on Friday.
Most survivors were from the coach class who exited from the back left door, while some passengers, including those from the front seats, used the left over-wing exits, said Frans Wenas, a senior investigator at the National Transport Safety Commission.
“Our findings showed the plane had been damaged after hitting a dyke,” Wenas told Reuters. “The hinges of the front door were broken.
“Probably, smoke entered from the front right side. Everything became dark after smoke went in, so they tried to find exits that could be seen.”
Many business class passengers were among those trapped inside when fire engulfed the plane, according to information from national carrier Garuda Indonesia.
The plane with 133 passengers and seven crew overshot the runway, ploughed through a wire fence and slammed into an embankment before bursting into flames in a paddy field in Yogyakarta on Wednesday.
The airline and other sources have given slightly different figures on the number of dead, ranging from 20 to 23.
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Flight GA 200 from Jakarta was a Boeing 737-400 plane with eight emergency exits.
The pilot and co-pilot survived without major injuries.
They have been questioned briefly but investigators are yet to determine whether human error contributed to the accident, national police chief detective Bambang Hendarso said.
The Australian Transport Safety Bureau said the plane’s black-box flight recorder and cockpit voice recorder had arrived in Canberra and investigators had begun work to retrieve and analyse the data.
A spokesman said full analysis of the data could take months but preliminary information could be obtained in a few days.
The voice recorder contains the final 30 minutes of the pilots’ chatter, while the flight data recorder should provide up to 25 hours of details on the aircraft’s speed, altitude, engine thrust and flap settings.
Aviation experts say Garuda’s safety record has improved in recent years, especially after a 1997 accident on Sumatra island that killed all 234 on board. The only deadly accident between that one and Wednesday’s crash was an emergency landing that killed one crew member in 2002.
Indonesia has suffered a string of transport accidents in recent months, including an Adam Air plane that disappeared in January with 102 people on board and a ferry sinking in late December in which hundreds died.
Vice President Jusuf Kalla said on Friday that too many transport accidents had brought “shame” to Indonesia.
But there has been no apparent drop in air transport demand.
Transportation Minister Hatta Radjasa told reporters the government was in the process of overhauling the aviation sector. “We are tightening aircraft inspection and pilot training regulations and auditing airlines.”
Thirty protesters rallied near the transport ministry in Jakarta on Friday, demanding Radjasa resign.
“If you use a ferry, it will sink. If you use a plane, it will fall. If you use a train, it will derail,” said a protester.